Bread and circuses, the phrase traces back to Roman times. The circus has been an English institution since Elizabethan times, that's according to this article found at the Circus History website.
As a kid I occasionally visited the Hippodrome Circus in Great Yarmouth, one of only two in permanent buildings, which featured a floor which could sink allowing water to flood in for an aquatic show. I found several articles and queries mentioning the Hippodrome. Searching on this US-based site using a community name might help you revive memories of childhood circus visits, either directly, through a search or the links in the Circus History Library.
If you had a relative who was involved with the circus as a performer of in management you may find an entry at http://circopedia.org/